Beyond its rolling hills, medieval villages and pastel homes with terracotta rooftops, Tuscany—or Toscana in Italian—is a 8,900-square-mile region in central Italy characterized by its incredible food and wine, placid landscape and relaxed lifestyle. Fly into Florence or Pisa and rent a car to check out this must-visit destination for an inspiring getaway. It will leave you feeling relaxed, rejuvenated and perhaps knowing how to make pasta from scratch.
“What is the real Italy, the guts of Italy? It’s here in Tuscany,” said Georges Midleje, general manager of the Renaissance Tuscany Il Ciocco Resort & Spa, a sprawling 180-room hotel set across 1,700 Tuscan hilltop acres. Once guests arrive, they can make themselves at home by ordering a hot cocoa (or something stronger) and sitting by the cozy fireplace in the Nour Lounge. When hunger pains strike, head to La Veranda, the onsite restaurant dishing up Tuscan classics like hearty bread cabbage and vegetable stew, pan-fried salmon with spinach, almond and raisin and homemade cheesecake for dessert. Guests can also sign up for the unique hands-on food shopping and cooking lessons with the hotel’s chef. Upon entering, participants get to shop for ingredients in local markets to create mouth-watering fresh pasta, dessert pastries and the perfect sauces using local vegetables and cheeses. Afterwards, head to the hotel spa for a Moonstone Massage (featuring heated stones) or the Herbal Pindas Massage using Tuscan herbs. All rooms feature balconies, perfect for taking in the sunset and incredible views of the Serchio Valley.
Tuscany is filled with hundreds of beautiful wineries, but be sure to make a stop at organic wine farm Podere Còncori run by Gabriele and Alina da Prato. Visitors will love the 30 euro lunch with delectable wine and food pairings like the Syrah (a delicious red with refreshing notes of wild berry and black cherry) and the Pinot Blanc (a dry and sour white wine with flavor attributed to the area’s soil composition of sand and shale). Fill up on simple, fresh fare like bruschetta and homemade vegetable soup, matching the different wines throughout the meal with an explanation from Gabriele.
Walled Medieval Towns
Barga is a must-visit town (walkable from the hotel!) with its colorful architecture and shadowy, twisting streets—it feels like a step into medieval life. Walk up to Barga Cathedral, a white marble church and mountaintop acropolis, and take in breathtaking views of the valley and mountains. Want a taste of Italian classics? Head to Scacciaguai Restaurant where dishes like fettuccine in mushroom sauce, savory cod cakes and fried eggs covered with black truffles take center stage.
Lucca is also worthy of a spot on the itinerary. It has the ancient feeling of a medieval town with modern shops and restaurants at its center known as the Piazza dell’ Anfiteatro. From here, visitors can see Lucca’s top architectural gems within a 10-minute walk: the Romanesque-Gothic Torre Guinigi tower built in the 13th century; the gothic-style Lucca Cathedral and San Michele in Foro church; and the birthplace of opera mastermind Giacomo Puccini, composer of “La bohème,” “Tosca” and “Madame Butterfly.”
Another great lunch spot is La Buca di Sant’Antonio. Founded in 1782, it smells of firewood and is furnished with white tablecloths and copper pots hanging from the ceiling. Try the satisfying traditional salt cod over chickpeas and veggies, taglioline with melted butter and truffles or the ricotta ravioli with zucchini. Afterwards, browse the boutiques and leather handbag and wallet shops for unique, locally-made finds like the stunning waterproof shearling boots at Cuoieria Fiorentina.